Finding a suitable Wine for Your Health and your body can seem like a fruitless exercise if you experience a reaction to wine.

You could do some complex time consuming research on this entire topic, if you knew what to search for, or you can read about the results of my continuing personal research on this topic, which began well over 4 decades ago when I experienced nasty reactions to wine. For 28 years I was an international wine consultant and surprisingly Australia’s first female wine importer in the US.

Continually exploring, I ultimately had the pleasure of regularly associating with oenologists – wine scientists – who study all aspects of wine and wine making except growing and harvesting. This association gave me the wonderful The Healthy Wine List Pictureopportunity of exploring wine reactions.

While many people do appear to have reactions to wine, they blame wine as the culprit rather than delving deeper. Early on I did that.

Barring any clearly defined allergic responses, there are numerous points each person (every body reacts differently), does need to explore so they too can enjoy the pleasures of wine. To provide you with practical usable information let’s look at a list of most of the possible triggers followed by a simple explanation about each.

Grape variety is without doubt the first area but I’ll mention that last. However wine style, manufacturer or better still wine maker are other issues to address.

Here are the major triggers – and it’s important for each person to identify and know which trigger(s) affect them.

  • Histamines
  • Tannin
  • Vintage – Age
  • Yeast
  • Sulphites
  • Percentage of Alcohol By Volume
  • Umami Oak Sugar / Baume Acid Grape variety is the first and usual culprit

Here is a brief explanation about each trigger:

Salicylates and Amines are also issues for some people but are not addressed here.

Histamines – compared with most foods that contain histamine, wine is much lower in histamine. However, in general red wine has more histamines than white wine that’s because white wine is made without skin contact.

While red wine sits on skins for some time, cheap red wine sits on seeds and stalks as well as skins and it is these that can cause reactions along with the wine being of a cheap quality.

Tannin – primarily comes from grape skins, seeds and stems but ALSO from oak or oak barrels and will be high in young wine.

Age – Vintage – Read the label, as this is certainly worthwhile understanding. Generally young (current vintage) that denotes the latest release of a wine; but later in a year (ie October on) some wines are released. Stay away from these if acid and tannin is an issue for you, the same applies if a white wine is described as crisp and green.

Yeast – a few people may have allergies to yeast if they consume unrefined wine and possible reactions to the refining agents that ‘clear’ the wine.

Sulphites are Preservatives. More sulphites are found in white wine, and are higher in sweeter styles. However when sulphites are used in cheap mass produced wine they are usually derived from petroleum and added in high quantities and these wines do cause headaches. Naturally derived sulphites produce far less reaction unless you drink excessively.

Percentage of Alcohol By Volume – If you have reactions to wine, stay away from wine higher than 13.5 alcohol by volume, or preferably 13%. Wines higher in alcohol than this are often red grape varieties and fortified wines. BUT be aware the low alcohol wines will not keep for more than two days with a good stopper.

Umami – a new essentially fifth taste to western scientists and gourmands, – it was discovered over 1200 years ago by the Chinese. Mushrooms, consommés, long cooked meats, shrimp, dried tomatoes, soy sauce and the real culprit, cured meats, all contain umani. As well this 5th taste tends to enhance tannins or the oaky character in wine and a known trigger.

Oak – can be a problem for some people as they contain high levels of strong tannins that are the astringent component of timber. If this is the case do not consume a wine, if you read the word Oak, on the wine bottle label.

Sugar or Baume – Since wine is made from the fermentation of sugary solutions there is residual sugar and is another possible issue for some people.

Grape Variety, (the first and usual culprit). Here is a list of grape varieties in descending order of tannins, histamines, and other major triggers. While it is hard to obtain a list in accurate order, this list is suitable, to be used as a good guide for you to identify what grape variety is better for you to consume and what to avoid.

The list begins with the worst offenders:

  • Shiraz
  • Cabernet
  • Merlo
  • Syrah
  • Tannat
  • Petite Sirah
  • Mouvedre (Mataro, Monastrell)
  • Sagrantino
  • Bobal
  • Aglianico
  • Cabernet
  • Franc Merlo
  • Petite Verdot
  • Carignan
  • Montepulciano
  • Monastrell
  • Tempranillo
  • Grenache
  • Carignan
  • Malbec
  • Nebbiolo
  • Zinfandel
  • Pinot Noir


Here’s The Bottom Line Notes:

  • If you know you will consume wine during the day or evening, do not consume, numerous foods high in histamine before drinking any wine.
  • Good wine doesn’t always mean expensive but it does always mean well made.
  • Be aware some wine producers consciously use far more sulphites than others, as their major market is overseas.
  • By learning to read a label thoroughly then nosing a wine well, you will easily detect most if not all of the triggers that cause you concern.
  • When you do drink wine, plan on consuming protein rich foods or snacks at the same time. Do not consume any processed food or cured meats. Drinking wine on an empty stomach will enhance reactions to wine including of course alcohol.


There is one generally accepted full proof solution to trigger free wine consumption. But first, this quote is worth mentioning and is by Madame Lily Bollinger – who ran the champagne House of Bollinger after her husband Jacques died in 1941. After answering many questions from a little cadet reporter from the London Daily Mail about champagne, the young girl posed a final question “Madame, do you even drink champagne yourself?” Her wonderful reply was:

I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes, I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it if I am; Otherwise, I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.”

On a serious note “real” champagne, that is French Champagne only, (otherwise the correct term is sparkling wine) is considered the best wine for your heath certainly because it is the purest wine made.

And there you have it, so I do hope you this information has helped you.

By Diana Todd-Banks

Long time international wine consultant and US wine importer


The Healthy Wine List Article

The Healthy Wine List






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